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Cowboys should fire Phillips now; 'Skins, McNabb head for split, too?

Then some interesting things happened. Lots of them. The benching of The Solution by Mike Shanahan; Troy Smith grabbing hold of the 49ers quarterback job; Ndamukong Suh playing like not only the Defensive Rookie of the Year but also a Defensive Player of the Year candidate; the Packers shutting out the Jets with a tour de force defensive performance that would have made Lombardi proud. And we haven't even gotten to the Patriots lacerating Favre and the Raiders humbling Hasselbeck and, Saints alive, the Saints coming alive.

Off we go on a tour of the NFL as the calendar turns to November.

Jerry's got heartburn, and he needs to act on it.

To: Jerry Jones.From: Me, representing everyone in the football world.Re: Your team.

As much as it pains you to admit it, Jerry, you have to do what you know needs to be done right now. You've never fired a coach in the middle of a season and there's no good reason to do it under almost any circumstance. Except these. Your team has given up. In the span of six days, Eli Manning and David Garrard have come into your sparkling new stadium and made sure the entire town turns its attention down the street to the Texas Rangers and the World Series. They've each thrown four touchdowns against your team in a week, combining to put up 76 points on what was supposed to be a top-five defense.

But everyone can see your Cowboys are not playing hard. We saw it in the NBC viewing room Sunday, and Garrard saw it, too. He told me: "It just looked like they weren't into the game like an NFL team should be.'' Said he noticed a "woe-is-me'' attitude among some of your players. You don't see that with a Baltimore or Pittsburgh. Andy Reid's teams don't do that. Your team's embarrassing. You said it yourself after the game. And at 1-6, there's no hope for the season. You've got to put Wade Phillips out of his misery, and you've got to do it now.

We all know Wade's a prince of a guy. But he's the exact wrong man for this job right now. This team has abused Phillips' decency. It's time to put a guy in the job for the rest of the year who won't take the same crap Phillips is taking right now. I'd choose offensive coordinator Jason Garrett or special-teams coach Joe DeCamillis. Garrett will be uber-organized, and he'd show you whether he should or shouldn't be a candidate for the full-time job when you interview John Fox, Leslie Frazier, Bill Cowher and maybe Jon Gruden after the season. DeCamillis has some fire to him, as you well know, and it looked like he wanted to bite some heads off after a shoddy special-teams play Sunday. As for the defense, Paul Pasqualoni has been a coordinator on a 3-4 team before -- last year in Miami. He can do it for the rest of the year, and he's right there on your staff.

One and six. An ugly 1-6. A give-up 1-6. You said this: "There's no way the result and the way we played tonight, there is no way I can rest, sleep, eat well with a diet of that right there. There is no way. If you look at what we're about, our team, our stadium, the pride I have in this franchise, you know it doesn't digest. It doesn't go down. We've got to do something that changes this on the field."

There's only one thing to do. You've never shied away from the tough calls, Jerry. This isn't even one of them, honestly. But it's got to be done. You've got to fire your coach.


McNabb in a weird place.

When Washington coach Mike Shanahan made the move he made Sunday with 1:45 left in the fourth quarter and Washington trailing by six at Detroit, removing a healthy Donovan McNabb for Rex Grossman to run the two-minute offense, he said it was because of Grossman's familiarity with the two-minute offense from working with offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan at Houston in 2009. But the move tells me three things:

1. Mike Shanahan can't be happy with the work ethic or the performance in the clutch, or both, of McNabb. To say you're more comfortable with Rex Grossman than Donovan McNabb with the game on the line is something that should strike McNabb to the core. There's no way after a full offseason in an offense, particularly with an offense as quarterback-friendly as the one run by Shanahan father and son, that an experienced quarterback with pelts on the wall wouldn't know it very well. If he doesn't, the inference is clear: McNabb hasn't worked hard enough to master it.

2. Shanahan is simply going by what he's seeing. I went back and looked at the first eight games of the Redskins' season. McNabb has had the ball four times inside the two-minute warning of the fourth quarter. Once, against Green Bay, he led Washington on a seven-play, 53-yard drive that ended in a game-tying field goal that forced overtime. On the other three drives, he threw one interception and couldn't get a first down on two others. Four two-minute drives at the end of games, three points. But that's not unlike McNabb's overall production. As of this morning, at the season's midpoint, he's the NFL's 25th-rated quarterback ... and he's also in the lower 20s in fourth-quarter passer rating. Don't show Washington owner Dan Snyder the quarterback rankings, by the way. McNabb's three spots behind Jason Campbell.

3. McNabb turns 34 this month. His contract is up at the end of the year. All along, we viewed the long-term deal of McNabb in Washington as a formality, to provide the fitting coronation to the Easter-night trade from the Eagles to the Redskins. Not so fast. Do the Redskins want to pay a flawed player -- and how else would you look at McNabb after Sunday's yanking -- $15 million a year to be their quarterback for the next four years? And does McNabb want to remain in Washington for a second season after getting blindsided with the game on the line in Detroit?

I tend to think McNabb should be the more worried party after Sunday. Is he really that desirable a quarterback? The Eagles dangled him for two months last spring, and the only team to give a market offer for him was Washington. If the Eagles didn't want him with three or four prime years left, and if the Redskins no longer want him, what are teams around the league to say? Well, Andy Reid and Mike Shanahan -- those are two guys who sure don't know quarterbacks! I'll take McNabb! Doubtful. Very doubtful.

Maybe McNabb needs to have a heart-to-heart with Mike Shanahan in this off week. Maybe he needs to emphasize to him he'll do whatever it takes to win the trust of the Shanahans through the offseason, even if it means working daily beyond the regular OTA periods with Kyle Shanahan on the mechanics and footwork of the position the way the Shanahans want him to play it. If I were McNabb, and I still wanted that one big contract, and I wanted to play with a team that has a chance to be good in the next three or four years, that's what I'd do.


Raiders on a roll.

Can't you just imagine Al Davis this morning? Told you I was right to trade the one for Richard Seymour. Told you Darren McFadden was a franchise back. Told you this pass-rush would work. Told you Darrius Heyward-Bey had some Cliff Branch in him.

The 4-4 Raiders are alive, .500 or better in November for the first time since 2002, when they made their last Super Bowl appearance. (Their last relevant football game, really.) They've been so dominant the last two weeks, beating Denver and Seattle by a combined 92-17, that they've got to be taken very seriously as contenders in the AFC West. This week the Chiefs come to town, and a Raiders win would pull them within a half-game of first place Kansas City after nine weeks.

Last week against Denver, the front seven, led by Seymour, Tommy Kelly and Kamerion Wimbley, was voracious in a four-sack beatdown of the Broncos. They turned it up higher Sunday in the 33-3 rout of Seattle. They sacked Matt Hasselbeck eight times, and when they weren't sacking him, they were pressuring him into quick throws. That helped them turn it back over to their offense, which, for the first time in the half-century history of the franchise, has had back-to-back 500-yard games. The running game looks unstoppable. The 328 yards against flawed and struggling Denver was one thing. But Seattle came into the Coliseum holding teams to 3.3 yards per rush, second in the league ... and Oakland riddled the Seahawks for 239 yards on 39 carries.

Watching chunks of Sunday's game, I found one thing evident: The Raiders are playing harder than they have been, flying to the ball like the Steelers and Ravens do on defense especially. Quarterback Jason Campbell points to a speech coach Tom Cable gave the team the night before the Denver game, when he implored them to stop worrying about making mistakes and to just play with abandon. And after Sunday's game, Cable said: "Good teams get breaks. They make their breaks because of how hard they're playing.'' That's exactly what it looks like the Raiders are doing.

Suddenly, it looks like if the Chargers are going to mount another charge to win the division, but they'll have to leapfrog two teams, not just Kansas City. And that first-round pick the Patriots got for Seymour? Now it looks like it might be in the teens or lower, not in the top five.

It's only two games, and they weren't against the cream of the league, but the Raiders haven't looked this good since their Super Bowl season.


Saints on a mission.

Until Sunday night, the Saints hadn't smothered anyone all season. They hadn't unleashed any real Gregg Williams fury in the first half of the season, not like the ferocity we'd seen consistently last year, especially late, when the defense was as important as the offense to the New Orleans cause. It didn't look like it'd happen Sunday when the marauding Steelers came to town for Halloween either, not with New Orleans' top three corners -- Jabari Greer, Super Bowl hero Tracy Porter and Randall Gay -- out with injuries. When first-round rookie corner Patrick Robinson was lost on the third play of the game against Pittsburgh after rolling his ankle, what was New Orleans to do?

Williams, the Saints defensive coordinator, teamed Malcolm Jenkins -- college corner, NFL safety -- with nickel back Leigh Torrence at the corners. Torrence had one of the game's fastest players, Mike Wallace, in coverage much of the night. Helped by the kind of blitz that frustrated Brett Favre in the NFC Championship Game, the Saints held Ben Roethlisberger touchdown-less and the Steelers to 279 yards in a 20-10 stunner at the Superdome. A week after being embarrassed by the Browns in the same stadium, the Saints played a physically battering style of football -- the kind Pittsburgh plays -- and punished Pittsburgh.

Torrence got the first interception of his five-year career to clinch it with 1:40 left and the Steelers driving. Wallace's totals for the night: three catches, 43 yards.

"Once Gregg saw we could match up with them, I think he started feeling comfortable with the blitzes,'' Torrence told me after the game. "I don't think I've ever taken that many snaps in a game at corner. It was definitely a big task, especially against Wallace. He's gotten behind every secondary he's played. But I've been with Gregg for a while; we were together back in Washington. He just said to me, 'We've been in battles like this before. Just go do what you do.'''

He did, and the Saints have life now, with one game left (at Carolina on Sunday) before their bye. For as badly as they've played for much of the first half, the 5-3 Saints are only a half-game behind 5-2 Atlanta and Tampa Bay in the NFC South.


Moss on a milk carton.

Now we can see why Randy Moss was so emotional after Sunday's 28-18 New England victory over Minnesota. I think he sees his career as an impact NFL player is declining; I wouldn't say it's over yet, because he's got the kind of speed and savvy that -- if he wants to apply himself and play with the fire clearly lacking in his game right now -- he could be better than he is right now. But the move to Minnesota to play with his friend Brett Favre has barely been any better than when he played with his other quarterback pal, Tom Brady, in New England. He's played four games with each this season, and here's what we see so far:

It's not going to get any better for Moss when Sidney Rice returns (probably in a couple of weeks) and Brett Favre (or Tarvaris Jackson) has Rice and Percy Harvin to further dilute his chances.


Performance of the day, team: The Green Bay defense

I liked what the Patriots did, liked the moxie of the beat-up Saints, oohed/aahed at the Raiders. But the Packers held down the league's second-rated rushing game (LaDainian Tomlinson and Shonn Greene struggled for 76 yards) and forced Mark Sanchez to try to win the game. He couldn't. Sanchez was a 42-percent passer and threw two interceptions, dealing with pressure all day.

"We wanted to put the ball into Sanchez's hands,'' said Clay Matthews, who had five tackles and a late, demoralizing sack of the Jets up-and-down quarterback. "We knew if we held down their running game, we had a good chance to be successful on defense.''

Packers 9, Jets 0. At the Meadowlands. "I'm sure if you asked people which of us would have had a shutout today, everyone would have said the Jets," Matthews added. "That's a really good team. But we'd lost three games, all by a field goal, and we haven't played our best football.'' In beating the Vikings and Jets in succession, Green Bay might have started playing its best.

Performance of the day, player: David Garrard

"How 'bout them Jaguars!'' Jacksonville owner Wayne Weaver said in the locker room after the Jags routed Dallas 35-17 at Jerryworld. How 'bout that Garrard? With a 17-of-21, four-touchdown outing, Garrard had the best day of his career. It helped that the Cowboys were in mail-it-in mode, for sure. But what was impressive was Garrard's performance against the blitz. He almost invited it, and on two of his four touchdown throws, he beat an extra rusher or rushers, with ease. "It was pitch-and-catch for us,'' said Garrard, who'd missed last week's game with a concussion.

It was a thrill for Garrard -- who grew up in East Orange, N.J., eight miles from the Meadowlands -- to do it with Phil Simms in the CBS booth upstairs. "You're my childhood idol,'' he told Simms after the game. The first football season Garrard remembers well is the Giants' Super Bowl XXI season (and the 39-20 win over Denver), and now he has something in common with those mid-eighties Giants' teams -- they buried the Cowboys with regularity. "We just wanted to dig them a little bit deeper,'' he said. Mission accomplished.


Suh on fire.

Sacks by Ndamukong Suh at midseason: 6.5.

Sacks, combined, by Jared Allen, Julius Peppers, Albert Haynesworth: 5.0

1. New England (6-1). Adrian Peterson found out Sunday it might not be so easy to try to make a season-saving yard against the Patriots defensive front, which looked absolutely impenetrable for stretches against the Vikes.

2. Pittsburgh (5-2). Very uncharacteristic late mistakes led to a loss that, ultimately, is understandable because it happened in New Orleans on Halloween night, and the Saints played defense the way they played it down the stretch of their Super Bowl season. I doubt this loss will linger with the Steelers.

3. Baltimore (5-2). The bye made the Ravens look a lot better in the AFC, didn't it? With the Jets and Titans losing, and the Chiefs looking shaky in holding off the Bills in overtime, Baltimore's back in the top-of-the-AFC mix.

4. New York Jets (5-2). An inexcusable performance coming off the bye. Scariest thing is how the offense couldn't make a play, either in the running or passing game.

5. Indianapolis (4-2). The Colts probably couldn't have asked for a better time to have 15 days between games. They've had some good rehab time. Reggie Wayne's back to near full health.

6. New York Giants (5-2). "In my mind, the Giants are the best team in the NFC,'' Sean Payton said Friday.

7. Tennessee (5-3). No shame in losing to San Diego at Qualcomm. But the Titans have to get off the Vince Young-Kerry Collins merry-go-round; it's difficult for Young, obviously, with his problematic left ankle getting hurt again.

8. Miami (4-3). I like how Tony Sparano laid down the gauntlet to his team after the game, telling them to put a stop to the inconsistencies of their season. Tough road the next two weeks -- at Baltimore, home to Tennessee. And I think I've beaten this one into the ground pretty well, but it's November, and the Dolphins haven't won at home and haven't lost on the road.

9. Green Bay (5-3). Nice eight days. Getting the Vikings off their back, then shutting out the Jets, coming off a bye, and doing it on the road.

10. Atlanta (5-2). See number 4 above for locker-room motivation this week, Mike Smith.

11. New Orleans (5-3). The first sniff I've had in weeks that things might get back to some semblance of Super Bowl normalcy sometime this year.

12. Kansas City (5-2). On the one hand, it's good to overcome an off day and play good enough to come out with a win. Yet to need 74 minutes, at home, to beat the Buffalo Bills ... that shows the Chiefs aren't in the Premiership yet.

13. Oakland (4-4). A big jump into the Fine Fifteen, and it's well-deserved. Raiders have scored 91 points the past two weeks and absolutely pummeled Denver and Seattle. Neither are good teams, but if you've seen any more than the highlights, you've seen how unleashed and vicious the defense is playing right now.

14. San Diego (3-5). See how quick I am to let the Chargers off the mat? Even with another special-teams gaffe (the fourth blocked Mike Scifres punt in eight games, incredibly), San Diego's still too formidable on offense, and too capable on defense, to forget.

15. (tie) Houston (4-2). Arian Foster has really had a remarkable season -- 815 yards from scrimmage in six games. He'll need at least an average game tonight in Indianapolis.

15. (tie) Tampa Bay (5-2). Big game this week. Bucs at Falcons, with Atlanta coming off its bye. That's a gutsy way, Tampa Bay, to come back and win a game that looked like it should been lost Sunday in the desert.

"After we just had this big disappointment here today, I wouldn't have red blood in my veins if I wasn't thinking about a lot of different things.''-- Dallas owner Jerry Jones, in the wake of the Cowboys losing, embarrassingly, to Jacksonville to fall to 1-6. This is the first time Jones has seemed to indicate he would make an in-season coaching change for a team that obviously isn't playing hard for Wade Phillips.

"I just want to be able to tell the guys [on the Patriots] I miss the hell out of them ... Man, I miss them guys man, I miss the team ... I love you guys, I miss you, I'm out.''-- Minnesota receiver Randy Moss, in a typically weird (for him) news conference after the Vikings lost to New England. It was a five-minute monologue, with no questions taken. He said he will be conducting his own interviews for the rest of the year, asking himself the questions and answering them.

Whatever you say, boss. (Walking very lightly around the extreme weirdness.)

"To mentally understand the game the way he does is just remarkable.''-- Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh, after Cardinal quarterback Andrew Luck completed 19 of 26 with a touchdown and no interceptions Saturday night in Seattle in a 41-0 rout of Washington. The ballyhooed matchup of Luck versus Washington quarterback Jake Locker (7 of 14, 64 yards, no touchdowns, two interceptions) was a dud.

Locker is a senior. Luck is a third-year sophomore. It's now looking like Luck, should he decide to enter the draft, likely will be the highest-rated player in it, with Locker floating somewhere around the middle of the first round.

"For five seconds now, I just thought in my head, 'Why do I play football in the first place?' ''-- Jets defensive tackle Kris Jenkins, being videotaped by his wife, Tashia, minutes before his Sept. 29 surgery in New Jersey to repair a torn ACL -- the third ACL surgery in his career. His candid reflections were shared with Greg Bishop for a story in the New York Times.

1. Tom Brady, QB, New England. Stacked below Wes Welker on the Patriots receiver leaderboard, Brady's next five favorite targets this year didn't play with him last year: Aaron Hernandez, Brandon Tate, Deion Branch, Danny Woodhead, Rob Gronkowski. The quarterback has to be pretty valuable in that case, and Brady's 65-percent first half of the season, with 12 touchdowns and four interceptions, proves him most valuable.

2. Peyton Manning, QB, Indianapolis. As usual, think of the two-loss Colts with Curtis Painter playing. I rest my case.

3. Haloti Ngata, DT, Baltimore. Played like the best defensive player in football in the first half of the season.

4. Clay Matthews, LB, Green Bay. Just watching the Packers shut out the Jets, and seeing Matthews playing with such ferocity for four quarters, I thought he deserved a spot on this list -- as much for leadership and top defensive play as anything else.

5. Philip Rivers, QB, San Diego. No quarterback through eight games has thrown for as many yards as Rivers has in his first eight this year (2,649). It's tough putting the quarterback of a 3-5 team on this list, but Rivers has kept the Chargers afloat and within a prayer of surviving this awful start.

Offensive Player of the Week

Troy Smith, QB, San Francisco.

Smith hadn't started an NFL game in 34 months -- since a Dec. 30, 2007 win over the Steelers as a Baltimore Raven. And to find out you'll get the start while in London, five days before the game, when you've never worked with the first-unit offense .... Pretty amazing deal. And Smith played well: 12 of 19, 196 yards, one rushing touchdown, one passing touchdown, no interceptions, and a gaudy 115.2 rating. "I'm not looking back at what should have been or what might have happened,'' Smith told me from London, after the Niners beat the Broncos in the league's international game at Wembley Stadium. "I'm just taking this chance and running with it.''

As I said on NBC Sunday night, you'll almost certainly see Troy Smith replace Alex Smith, regardless of Alex's health, when the 49ers come off their bye in 13 days against the Rams. My take is that Mike Singletary sees Troy as the make-something-happen sparkplug he never saw in Alex -- or in backup David Carr.

Defensive Players of the Week

Ndamukong Suh, DT; Cliff Avril, DE; and Kyle VandenBosch, DE, Detroit.

What an oppressive game these three Lions played, combining for 15 tackles, six sacks (for a loss of 54 yards), two more quarterbacks hits, two more tackles for loss, a forced fumble and a fumble returned (by Suh) for a touchdown in the 37-25 Detroit victory over Washington. The Lions are 2-5. Their defensive front is playing like it's 5-2.

Special Teams Player of the Week

Dan Carpenter, K, Miami.

"How about this damn kicker!!!'' Tony Sparano yelled to his team in his postgame remarks after the Dolphins beat Cincinnati 22-14. How about him? Carpenter, in the span of 30 minutes, kicked field goals from 38, 42, 24, 54 and 31 yards, scoring the first 15 points of the game and, with the last one, giving the Dolphins a lead they wouldn't relinquish. He did it through a nice breeze -- 11 mph winds -- without missing. And he did the five-field-goal thing for the second straight week. That's right. Two weeks, 10 field goals for Carpenter.

Coach of the Week

Norv Turner, head coach, San Diego.

For one of the few times in his 197-game NFL coaching career, Turner got ticked off at halftime. His 2-5 team was down 19-14 to the Titans, and having had ANOTHER punt blocked (the fourth in eight games), Turner had seen enough. The players responded. Second-half score: San Diego 19, Tennessee 6. That led to a win the Chargers, very slightly, needed.

Goats of the Week

The entire Dallas punt coverage team.

But specifically wide receiver Sam Hurd, linebacker Brandon Williams, tight end Scott Chandler, long-snapper L.P. LaDouceur and wide receiver Jesse Holley (and shouldn't Holley, the winner of Michael Irvin's football reality show that landed him in Cowboy camp in the first place, NEVER be seen as dogging it?). This play perfectly illustrates why the Cowboys have been the biggest disappointment by far this year in the NFL.

In the second quarter against Jacksonville, Mat McBriar dropped a punt inside the Jacksonville 10-yard line. Returner Mike Thomas, though surrounded by the onrushing and aforementioned Cowboys, did not call for a fair catch. And the Cowboys watched him take off like a rabbit being frightened by a shotgun blast. They chased Thomas, who ran for 16 yards, to the Jag 25-yard line. The picture of special-teams coach Joe DeCamillis reaming out his guys on the sidelines was worth a thousand words. Perfect.

Sam Bradford had a lot to adjust to this year. He had to adjust to playing football following major shoulder surgery last fall, which caused him to miss most of his senior year at Oklahoma. And he had to adjust to being a savior for a bad franchise, a 6-42 team over the past three years. Consider Bradford pretty well-adjusted at the season's midpoint. In his last three-plus games, covering 187 minutes, he hasn't thrown an interception, has won two of the three games, and has the Rams at 4-4 -- a half-game out of first in the absolutely winnable NFC West.

Check out the stretch of interception-free football by Bradford:

Consider the shaky group of receivers he has, and you really can't say enough good things about the job Bradford's done in making the Rams relevant again.

There were between 15 and 20 NFL scouts at the First Draft Choice Bowl Saturday night in Seattle -- Andrew Luck of Stanford versus Jake Locker of Washington. As I mentioned earlier, Luck outplayed Locker badly and the Cardinal won in a rout, 41-0.

One team took the unusual step of having two scouts in attendance: Cleveland.

Play well while the floor is yours, Colt McCoy. Play very well.

I shared a dressing room with Rihanna Saturday.

Kind of.

On home Notre Dame Saturdays, I dress for the NBC halftime segment in the room where my TV clothes are stored, along with Rodney Harrison's and Tony Dungy's. That's also the room where the star of Saturday Night Live dresses. [You may remember 51 weeks ago how I stepped on Taylor Swift's red gown in the same dressing room. Then again, if you have a life, you may not.] This week, the star was Rihanna. After the Notre Dame halftime show, I went back in the room to change, and I was nearly through when a woman, maybe 28, walks in and, with a look of You are NOT supposed to be in here, says, "Ohhhh. Uh, this is Rihanna's dressing room.''

"I'm almost done,'' I said. "One minute.''

"This was supposed to be locked,'' she said, annoyed, and turned and closed the door.

To the closed door, I called out, "I didn't steal anything. It wouldn't really fit me.''

So my Montclair buddy Jack Bowers and California daughter, Laura, took a busman's holiday Thursday to see World Series Game 2 at AT&T Park in San Francisco. A great trip. The highlights:

• Rode two cable cars.

• Smelled marijuana near Fisherman's Wharf.

• Stood at the northeast corner of Clay and Sansome streets near the Embarcadero and could see three Starbucks within 50 yards -- one to my left, one straight ahead, and one to my right -- all the while evading people trying to enter Peet's right behind me.

• Smelled marijuana near Lefty O'Doul's, the quaint only-in-San Francisco bar-cafeteria downtown.

• Learned to like Fat Tire Amber Ale, thanks to a tap at Lefty O'Doul's.

• Saw the greatest collection of T-shirts and signs ever at a ballgame. Overnight, Cody Ross has been immortalized on T-shirts all over town (As THE BOSS.) A bar two blocks up from the park advertised on its signboard: "Josh Hamilton Drinks Free.'' Everyone had fake jet-black beards in honor of closer Brian Wilson, he of the jet black beard. Saw lots of "TIMMY SMOKE'' T-shirt with marijuana leaves on them, in honor of Tim Lincecum getting pinched on a marijuana charge last year. Think that doesn't make him a favorite of the locals?

• Loved the ballpark and the fans and the atmosphere and the cove and the center-field denizens. [See photo of me with my new, uh, hairy friend.] I've been to big sports events before where the fans have more of an interest in saying they were at the game than actually being into the game. That was one intense crowd, from the first pitch. The cutest 5-year-old girl in our row was clutching and pounding her glove, waiting for a ball all night, and never missed one pitch.

• Learned I might be able to manage better than Ron Washington. Giants led 2-0 in the bottom of the eighth. Two out. No one on. Buster Posey singles. Pitching change. In comes lefty setup guy Derek Holland. Four straight balls to Nate Schierholtz. Men on first and second. Up comes Cody Ross, hottest bat in the Giant postseason. Ball one. Ball two. Ball three. "He's got to warm up Feliz,'' I say. [Neftali Feliz, the trusted closer.] Nope. Ball four. Bases loaded. Eight balls, no strikes. NO ONE WARMING UP. NOT FELIZ, NOT ANYONE.

Up comes Aubrey Huff. Ball. Ball. Ball. At some point here, righty reliever Mark Lowe sprints out to the bullpen from the dugout and starts speed-throwing. Foul. Ball four. Twelve balls, one strike. Run in. Now it's 3-0. Still a game. Where is Feliz? Texas is still in the game; only 3-0, and there's an off-day tomorrow, and they need one out -- one measly out ... and you're telling me it's not an important enough out to get Feliz up?

Rangers stall for time. Now comes Washington to yank Holland. In comes Lowe. Up comes Juan Uribe. He walks. FOUR WALKS IN A ROW. HAVE I EVER SEEN THAT IN A GAME BEFORE? PROBABLY, BUT NEVER IN A GAME OF THIS MAGNITUDE. Giants, 4-0. No Feliz. A white flag in the World Series, with your 4-5-6 hitters due. I don't understand. Edgar Renteria singles; 6-0. Somebody with the last name "Kirkman'' comes in next. Aaron Rowand pinch-hits a triple. Giants, 8-0. Andrews Torres doubles. Giants, 9-0. Neat note of the inning: Freddy Sanchez, who struck out swinging to make the second out, strikes out swinging to make the third out. Not a good frame, Ron.

• Smelled marijuana walking out of the park, then a block later on Second Avenue, walking from the stadium.

I feel the same way about San Francisco as I do about San Diego, which is my favorite Super Bowl city. Can the Giants make the World Series every year? Please?

Postscript: Ten hours after walking out of the stadium, I'm sitting in New York Jets special teams coach Mike Westhoff's office in suburban New Jersey, interviewing him for a story. Isn't it a wonderful travel world?

"NFL apologists alert: This will be 9th WS winner in last 10 years. How many times has NFL had 9 champs in 10 years? Nada.''--@jaysonst, Jayson Stark, the estimable major-league baseball analyst and a writer whose stuff I've long admired.

Having said that, I submit my MLB apologists alert:

Including this year, the last 15 seasons have produced nine different World Series winners. The last 15 NFL seasons have produced 11 different Super Bowl winners.

"DANG''--@AdrianPeterson, Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, after Minnesota's 28-18 loss in New England Sunday.

1. I think this is what I liked about Week 8:

a. Kyle Vanden Bosch is such a smart player; he had a looping sack of Donovan McNabb that underscored it. He lined up over the nose, looped to his right, had the option of which hole to pick, went all the way outside to the right, and nailed McNabb. Underrated speed for an old guy.

b. Kyle Orton to Brandon Lloyd, back shoulder, between two Niners. Thing of beauty.

c. The Chad-T.O. celebration post-touchdown. A simple gentleman's handshake. Kind of cool.

d. Favre played. He was glad he did. Played well too. "I was shocked I was able to play and move around the way I was,'' he said. No reason he won't play again next week too.

e. Buffalo's effort. Chan Gailey doesn't have a good team, but he has a team that's fun to watch and that plays hard.

f. Kansas City cornerback Brandon Flowers ... just physical enough. He's playing so well, and in part because he knows how physical he can be past the five-yard bump zone.

g. The two Jet fans dressed as Sideline Rex Ryan for Halloween. Perfect -- all the way down to the headset he wears and the black vest over the white long-sleeve shirt underneath -- and the laminated playsheet he holds. Now that's clever.

h. Officials made the right call on the Denver chop block against San Francisco. When Knowshon Moreno dropped down after pitching the ball back to quarterback Kyle Orton, and then the onrushing 49er got pushed over the kneeling Moreno, that constitutes a chop block. "Intent'' is not a factor in chop blocking -- and clearly, Moreno didn't drop to his knees to attempt a chop block. But that doesn't matter. The only thing that matter is whether the defender was chop blocked, which, in this case, did happen.

i. Jon Kitna deserved a much better fate. His receivers got their hands on all three balls Kitna had intercepted by the Jags.

j. Jamaal Charles, 22 for 177. Heck of an elusive back, and he can break tackles too.

k. Fantasy players who picked up LaGarette Blount.

l. Darius Heyward-Bey! A Darius Heyward-Bey sighting! And a 105-yard receiving day for him.

m. Mike Shanahan's stones.

n. Ron Brace. Huge play in Minnesota-New England late in the first half, with the Vikings having a first-and-goal at the Patriots' one with the score tied at 7. Brace, a second-year defensive tackle from Boston College (looks like he has classic noseman size), lined up on the head of Minnesota right tackle Phil Loadholt. At the snap, Adrian Peterson took the ball and ran right behind Loadholt. One problem: Brace was pushing Loadholt back. Peterson couldn't find a hole, and he was enveloped by the Patriot defense. Never would have happened if Brace hadn't win the man-to-man battle with Loadholt.

2. I think this is what I didn't like about Week 8:

a. Teams wear throwbacks too often. Those Ram throwbacks were ugly when Dick Vermeil coached, and they're still ugly.

b. Brutal, brutal sked of early games. Simms and Nantz at Jax-Dallas (combined record 4-9) ... London getting the 3-11 combo platter of Niners/Broncs.

c. I don't say this lightly: I am shocked at how much the Cowboys stink. Miles Austin and Felix Jones -- and the defense -- are the latest to smell it up. Austin and Jones dropped Jon Kitna throws, turning them into interceptions. The defense ... pick a player. It's awful.

d. Randy Moss implying the Vikings should have gone for the field goal at the end of the first half on fourth-and-goal from the Patriot one in a 7-7 game. I guarantee you'd have heard grumbling from the Vikings if Brad Childress had gone for the field goal instead of using the best running back alive, Adrian Peterson, to try to make a yard, and a touchdown.

e. The ridiculous fake punt the Jets tried, and that punter Steve Weatherford evidently had permission to try if he felt he had the open space, on a fourth-and-18. How can you think you've got room to make 18 yards? Ridiculous that Weatherford ran it, and more ridiculous if he had the freedom to do so from the coaches.

f. Mark Sanchez responding to pressure. Not a good day for the Sanchize.

g. LaDainian Tomlinson and Shonn Greene, 22 for 76. It's vital to do better than that.

h. Carson Palmer. I don't care what the stats say, he throws too many Rick Ankiel balls. In other words, the football equivalent of a ball ending up on the backstop.

i. Amazed that Drew Brees held onto the ball so long in the fourth quarter, giving the Steelers a chance to sack, force a fumble and recover. Not like Brees.

j. Max Hall. Looks like he's playing with zero confidence now, totally unlike the guy I saw in training camp.

3. I think the reports of the Houston Texans doing drug sweeps in the wake of two of their players being suspended this year for testing positive for PEDs are a little off-base. This happened five weeks ago, when left tackle Duane Brown got whacked for four games. The Texans met with their players and told them the only supplements they wanted to see on the premises were NFL-approved supplements. Three companies manufacture these supplements and are marked with the NFL seal of approval. So the players were told if you have anything else in your locker, get rid of it.

Team officials did a visual inspection, though not very close and involved, to make sure players were complying. But if a player had unapproved supplements behind a door in his locker, for instance, the team wouldn't have gone in there to inspect, according to Houston GM Rick Smith. "We didn't go down there and search through lockers,'' Smith told me. "We just wanted players to know the only way you could avoid testing positive for sure would be to only take the NFL-approved supplements.''

What the Texans did, in effect, is put the dog-ate-my-homework onus on the players. If the players want to say they took a tainted supplement, they can do that ... but then they'd have to admit they took a supplement not approved by the NFL, which is what the team is trying to make sure they don't do.

4. I think because many of you have asked about NFL Films' Top 100 Players series, I thought I'd take a minute to explain how the thing worked. The final show, with the top 10 players, will air Thursday night on NFL Network, followed by a one-hour wrap show with four or the voters (me, veteran NFL executives Ernie Accorsi and Mike Lombardi, and Jarrett Bell of USA Today) discussing the pros and cons of the vote with moderator Steve Sabol. (We taped the show the other day in Mount Laurel, N.J., in NFL Filmsville.)

Anyway, here's how the balloting went: 85 voters --owners, GMs, NFL executives and retired execs, coaches, owners, former coaches, broadcasters, media and Hall of Fame voters -- got a list of 260 players. We were asked to grade the players from 1 to 10 (with 10 being the best). When all the ballots were gathered, NFL Films tallied up the votes, and the 100 highest-rated players were ranked from 1 to 100 based on total points. For instance, if Johnny Unitas was given a 10 by 70 voters and a 9 by the other 15, his point total would have been 835. I have no idea about Unitas' point total; I use him only as an example. But you see how the things works.

Seems the biggest controversy so far has been the ranking of the modern quarterbacks (surprise) who've played since 1970. They've fallen in this order: Brett Favre 20, Tom Brady 21, John Elway 23, Dan Marino 25, Roger Staubach 46, Terry Bradshaw 50, Troy Aikman 80, Steve Young 81, Kurt Warner 90, Joe Namath 100. Obviously, there are a couple of quarterbacks I haven't named who just might be in the last show. One is active and might be playing tonight. Another is retired and has the same last name as a western state with a very big sky. Anyway, it was a fun exercise. Thursday night will be fun TV.

5. I think I liked two things Mike Tomlin said to Bob Costas in the NBC Football Night in America interview last night. Costas asked Tomlin about what changes he's seen in Ben Roethlisberger since the QB returned from his four-game suspension. "As a player, he's enjoying the monotony more,'' Tomlin said, and truer words can't be spoken. Roethlisberger saw what was taken away from him, missed it desperately, and came back a more interested man in what used to be the menial tasks of the job. Tomlin also said of his quarterback having to much fame too early in life: "Success ... can be a trap door for you.'' Good stuff.

6. I think the Lions probably want to play the Redskins every week. Great stat from Mike Florio: In the past 40 Detroit games, the Lions are 2-0 against Washington and 2-36 against everyone else.

7. I think we shouldn't let the weekend get away without leaving you with a snippet from SI's David Epstein's report in the magazine this week on a groundbreaking study of high school football players. Writes Epstein:

"The findings suggest that while the NFL is going to unprecedented lengths to control the violent collisions that produce concussions, brain trauma in football may start much earlier, and much less conspicuously, with hits that never raise an eyebrow, much less a penalty flag."

Epstein also describes the potential of blood and genetic testing to diagnose brain trauma:

"Bone breaks have X-rays and muscle strains have MRIs, but no form of medical imaging has yet been able to quickly and reliably quantify the type of brain trauma a concussed athlete might suffer. But a number of promising technologies are in the medical pipeline."

8. I think the oddest stat -- or maybe not, if you consider how offensive coordinators target who they consider the weak link in a secondary -- is that DeAngelo Hall had the highest completion completion-percentage-against of any cornerback in football after seven weeks ... yet had his fifth interception in 32 minutes Sunday against the Lions. (added to his four picks against the Bears last week, all in the last 25 minutes of the second half). I'm sure no player has ever had five interceptions in 32 minutes in NFL history. Small consolation to the Redskins, of course, today.

9. I think Jenn Sterger is probably more likely to sue the New York Jets than she is to take action against Brett Favre, if the investigators working for her attorney find it was a Jets' employee in 2008 who funneled her phone number to Favre.

10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:

a. MLS Eastern Conference semis: New York vs. San Jose. Come again?

b. I thought it was weird when Phoenix was in the NFC East. Well, I guess San Jose is east ... of Honolulu.

c. Always learn a lot reading the New York Times. Always. Like last Wednesday: Did you know Bill Clinton's a vegan? That a public school superintendent of a system in Maine with declining enrollment traveled to China to try to convince parents to send their kids to school in his town? That, in the past 26 years, 24 New Yorkers have been killed or seriously injured in fights arising over Halloween eggings? That (and I particularly liked this one) the World Series mayors are both former baseball players themselves and, in their own way, are politically/baseball correct -- Democrat Gavin Newsome of San Francisco throws left, Republican Tom Leppert of Dallas throws right.

d. I have heard people complain that the price of newspapers is going up, or that newspaper websites, in starting to charge people for content (which is long overdue), are turning people away from the papers. Well, I guess paying $2 for the Times is prohibitive outside of New York City compared to recent days, when it could be had for less than a dollar. But I paid $2.49 for a Zone bar in Logan Airport the other day and $2 for the newspaper. I was finished with the Zone bar in seven bites -- maybe five minutes. I spent 75 minutes with the Times, then put the crossword in my bag (frustratingly) to work on it later in the week. Pretty good deal if you ask me.

e. Speaking of journalists who deserve praise, Stan Grossfeld of the Boston Globe is amazing. He's done great work this year on the Bernie Carbo-played-high story, the story of the other Marinovich -- Syracuse pass-rusher and NFL prospect Mikhail Marinovich -- and the Travels-With-Charlie-style story in which he was a fly on the wall in London with Red Sox owner John Henry as he closed the deal to buy the Liverpool soccer team. What's more, he takes the pictures for the stories too. Now that's a photojournalist for you.

f. Speaking of Liverpool, my brother Ken lives in England. He's a big Yankees fan. He's a big Liverpool fan. Now he's got to root for the owner of the Red Sox to turn around his flagging soccer team.

g. Coffeenerdness: Thank you, United Airlines, for at least trying to make good airline coffee. The Starbucks United serves -- had it again last Wednesday -- is the best in the air.

h. I have not run into many (or any, maybe) companies with the public conscience of Harpoon Brewery in Boston.

i. Thanks, Celtics, for allowing my buddy Pete Thamel and me to parachute into the Celts-Heat LeBron Bowl opener. Very generous of you. Even got to meet my favorite player of my youth, Hondo Havlicek. That was fun. Except for me asking one too many stupid questions when trying to find out where some of the guys from that team were now. "Where's Larry Siegfried?'' I asked. Said Hondo: "He died two weeks ago.''

j. And I know less about the NBA than I know about Norwegian politics. But I did leave the basketball game wondering how in the world anyone would think Chris Bosh is on LeBron's and Dwyane Wade's level. It should be the Big Two and Three-Quarters in Miami instead of the Big Three, shouldn't it?

k. Count me among those who cannot figure out for the life of me how a kid (or an adult, for that matter) would be allowed to go up in one of those portable scissor rigs that house film crews at football practices when the wind is blowing at an estimated 50 mph. Notre Dame student Declan Sullivan was killed when the wind blew one of the rigs over at an Irish football practice the other day. The investigation continues. I've been at many a practice when those things are skyward. Without being there, it's tough to figure out exactly what happened, obviously. But if it's that windy, it stands to reason it's quite a risk.

l. Come on, Charlie Sheen. Get a hold of yourself, man.

Indianapolis 30, Houston 23. This game can go a lot of ways, because both teams ought to feel pretty good coming off the bye. But if I'm analyzing a football game, and Peyton Manning has had two weeks to prepare, and Bill Walsh has had two weeks to prepare, I'd still probably pick Manning. Thus the prediction.